November 24, 2020

Guest Commentary: From Kiener Plaza, With Love

By Christopher Robinson, Student

As an occupier, I was appalled to hear that after failed “negotiations” with the city, Occupy St. Louis would be evicted from Freedom (Kiener) Plaza during the evening of Veterans Day. What could have caused this? What would happen that evening? Would we be tear-gassed? Would this help us, or ultimately lead to our demise?
The mayor’s senior staff came down to Freedom Plaza the Tuesday before Veterans Day to start “negotiations” with our encampment. Citing complaints, special assistant to the mayor Mary Ellen Ponder stated that the city would not allow us to stay in the Plaza. But with a movement that has gained the support of nearly every union, who would complain?
The Downtown Partnership of St. Louis was the only group in St. Louis to file a complaint with the mayor’s office. This group is made up of representatives of the 1 percent, mind you. These negotiations, as we have seen with other occupy encampments around the globe, have been entirely unfruitful and have become a tactic of the local governments to say that they “tried” to work with the encampments and then move in and arrest what I have come to call “freedom fighters.”
After two days of working with our government, no consensus was reached, mainly because the solutions presented by the city were against our main principles, including the 24 hour use of public space and the Bill of Rights, not to mention numerous international laws.
True to their word, the city gave us 24-hour notice to our eviction, stating that they would be strictly enforcing all ordinances regulating the use of public parks. So, we decided to occupy the judicial system and file an injunction against the city.
As the 10 p.m. curfew rolled around, an estimated 400 freedom fighters joined us in the plaza. No, these weren’t all 20-something hippies and urine covered bums, as labeled by the media. It was the Vietnam veteran that refused to support a system that doesn’t protect the rights he fought for. It was the grandfather who refused to see his grandchildren grow up in a society where they had no chance of a future. It was the Aerospace engineer who spent over $200,000 on an education and has had no job opportunities since graduating.
As we waited for word about our injunction, several bicycle cops showed up to observe.  One cop was nice enough to warn us that there would be no 10-minute grace period, as was given during the first set of arrests. After hearing that our injunction was denied, more than 100 police officers surrounded us with eight paddy wagons and dozens of cars. We divided into two groups, the ones who could not be arrested moved to the sidewalks and the ones willing to maintain our vigil remained in the park. In all, 27 people were arrested, including a person trying to get their bike out of the plaza. They then raided and trashed the personal belongings that remained in the park without warrant. Those who were arrested were released the next evening on bail.
As seen with any social movement, it takes aggression from the opposing side to gain more support and numbers. It takes the arrests, tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and mace for us to spread our message. This is why we thank the police for playing a part in our movement. I urge you to go to http://occupytogether.org and learn more about our movement and what we are fighting for — a government free of corruption and economic equality. We are here. We are growing. We are the 99 percent. And our passion for freedom is stronger than their prisons.

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